The calendar may still say it’s spring but the summer blockbuster season has officially kicked off with the latest from the Marvel Universe, Iron Man. Similar to other films based on characters from that world, it looked great, from its posters to its well put together trailers. But unlike those which have previously disappointed and generally sucked, Iron Man delivers, even if it’s not as you’d expect.
For anyone who may not know the general premise, here goes. Tony Stark, an extremely wealthy industrialist, is forced to build a missile after he is captured in Afghanistan. But unbeknownst to the captors, Stark takes this opportunity to build a prototype suit to break his way out of captivity. Once back home he decides to use his newly acquired technology to fight the forces of evil.
I am glad to see that the first official blockbuster of 2008 gets us off to a good start — more than good, in fact. It was clear from the very first film from summer of last year that it was going to be a catastrophe for the biggest money making season of 2007. If we are to roughly judge the quality ahead by looking at Iron Man alone then the blockbuster season of 2008 is gong to be an impressive one indeed.
What I was expecting from Iron Man was lots of action — big, expensive-looking set pieces but nothing much else. What we get is something quite different because although action is there, and there are big set pieces and CGI, there is a lot more to it, most notably the script and how Robert Downey Jr delivers his lines. For anyone familiar with him as an actor you will know exactly what I’m talking about; he has this wit and charm about him that could make even the worst of scripts bearable. He employs his style with much gusto, injecting fresh life into the dramatic-actor-playing-a-superhero exercise.
What jumps off the posters for the film, besides the awe of seeing the suit, is the fantastic cast. They support Downey Jr very well, from Jeff Bridges' creepy colleague to Terrence Howard’s sceptical but supportive army general. But what I was most pleasantly surprised about with regards to the cast is Gwyneth Paltrow. She provides her best performance in years and she and Downey Jr work so well together with the dialogue, playing off of one another and keeping each other on their toes. The dialogue is one of the primary strengths of the film; even if it isn’t top-notch throughout, the way Downey Jr handles it and how others play off of him makes for a extremely entertaining time when the action isn’t taking place.
What most die-hard fans of either superhero movies or the title character (most probably those two go hand in hand) will be looking for in this movie will be the joy of seeing the suit being put together and some kick-ass action sequences. While it certainly delivers on the former, although people may be somewhat disappointed that it’s close to an hour before we even see the suit, it’s the latter that I fear might not completely satisfy people.
Director Jon Favreau isn’t the great action director in the world to say the least; his style I feel is more suited to the dialogue-centric scenes or those involving the building of the suit. The action here, although decent enough and with some great little sections here and there, isn’t the full-on, fantastic, blow-you-away action that a lot of people are expecting and hoping for. Throughout the action scenes it just felt like Favreau was a little out of his depth and it needed a more experienced director in this field to give it that extra push to the next level. I wasn't irked with it all that much, as I found many other things besides action in Iron Man to enjoy, but I am sure it will bother others.
The biggest joy to be found besides the dialogue and the delivery was seeing the suit on-screen. I am not a huge fan of the character from the comic books but I admit it’s one of my favourite-looking ones. Just the idea of seeing this suit being built from scratch using various gadgets and Mr Stark's expertise had me drooling in my seat.
The movie is not without its flaws, however. As I said, the action isn't handled as well as it would have been by a more experienced director and some of the plot points are easy to see coming; for example it’s fairly obvious who the bad guy is going to be. But I am willing to forgive those flaws for the sake of everything else, which is quite impressive.
It’s very clear that this is only the beginning of a huge money-making franchise and I, for one, welcome it with open arms. If they can keep the rest at least on par with how good this one is I will be very happy. Downey Jr is great as the title character; his handling of the dialogue and inclusion of his trademark wit and charm is an absolute joy to watch. Great supporting performances, a fun script, and some decent action sequences make this worth checking out. Roll out the rest of summer 2008.